by Juliet Hancock

What values look like in action – behaviours

Whether they are written down or not, values define your brand and reputation. They need to be translated into the behaviours which you need to be effective as a business, and which must be lived out in everyday practice and experience.

Leaders and managers indicate to staff and customers what is important by what they actually say and what they do – not what is written on the wall or in corporate literature.

Similarly, the words and deeds of all staff will be seen by others as an example of the culture of the organisation in practice.

To make values live and stick, they need to be practised and visible in everything you say and do – formal and informal.

Clear organisation values will include a description of the sort of behaviour that is expected, which then needs to be practised. Only then will the values be truly experienced by employees and customers. People (including senior managers) should then be rewarded or held to account accordingly.

Many organisations describe these in standards of behaviour or competencies.

For two examples of how organisations (the NHS and Zappos) embed core values in staff behaviour, see here.

Linking values to behaviours

The first step in ensuring that values are lived out in practice is to clarify the behaviours that exemplify specific values. Below are three exercises designed to help you and your team walk your talk.

Exercise 1: Identifying behaviours to support values

In a team, ask the following questions for each value and capture an example.

  • How do I/we demonstrate this value well to customers in my/our work?
  • How do I/we demonstrate this value well in my/our work with colleagues?
  • How do I/we demonstrate this value well to my/our staff?
  • Give an example of how you would like your manager to demonstrate this value.
  • Give an example of how you expect your people to demonstrate that value.
  • Think of someone who demonstrates this value well. What do they say/do?
  • How would you expect all mangers to demonstrate this value?
  • What could I/we do better to demonstrate this value?

Exercise 2: Experiencing values in practice

Pick a value to examine.

  • Stage 1 (individual): imagine someone is demonstrating this value to you as a customer or colleague. Write down everything that you hear them they saying or see them doing. How does it make you feel?
  • Stage 2 (in pairs or groups): share your ideas and come up with a list of the behaviours that have most impact.

Exercise 3: Living values

Decide which value you or your team want to practise/develop.

  • Identify some practical examples of things you can do to practise this in the next week/month and write these down as commitments.
  • Record an example of each time you do this in practice and the result. Add examples of other things you do or experience (or see/hear others do).
  • At the end of the week/month, review these examples with your team members.
Value How I will demonstrate this Examples/Evidence Impact/What I will do as a result
Day 1 or Week 1
Day 2 or Week 2
Day 3 or Week 3
Day 4 or Week 4

How to embed values and make them live

How can you embed values into corporate processes and communications?

Embedding values is about ensuring that your values are embedded in all your corporate processes and communications. Below is a table with some starter thoughts and tips.

Corporate process

Setting targets/objectives

Do your organisation, team and individual objectives and measures describe ‘how’ each target should be met as well as what?
Do you have objectives and measures about values that are important to your organisation?

  • Engage your board and senior team in setting direction and identifying what is most important – don’t delegate it to ‘business planning’.
  • Describe organisation objectives in terms of ‘why’ and ‘how’, not just ‘what’.
  • Include objectives and measures which explicitly relate to your organisation values.
  • Include objectives which focus on improving behaviour and process, not just end results.
  • Ensure you know how each objective will be measured.
  • Include measures which relate to customer and staff feedback, and what people are saying and doing as a result. Be clear about the standards of behaviour expected.
  • Cascade organisation objectives to departments and teams – engage them in translating cooperate objectives into the contribution their team can make. They need to include ‘why’ this is important and how they will implement it, linked to what is important and is felt to matter.
  • Engage every part of the business so each team/section understands their contribution and can include objectives and measures which are relevant to them.
  • Encourage staff to come up with objectives and development actions which link to their personal values, so they will be more motived to achieve them.
  • Feedback and communicate results at every level in a way which explains the difference meeting (or failing to meet) the objective has made, linked to your purpose and values.
Performance appraisals

Does the appraisal system allow managers and individuals to measure behaviour in both quantitative and qualitative ways? Is appraisal seen to matter/make a difference?

  • If behaviour linked to values matters, it needs to sit at the heart of your team and individual performance management and review process.
  • Everyone needs to be appraised – from board members through senior executives to casual or temporary staff, using the same standards of behaviour.
  • Performance measurements/ratings need to reflect not just the achievement of results, but how they were achieved.
  • Include feedback from others about behaviour. This can be through a formal or informal 360 feedback process, through asking the views of others and by encouraging staff to bring their own examples of feedback received.
  • If you are a manager, ask for feedback from your staff and others about your behaviour and encourage your staff to do the same.
  • If measurement against competencies is included in the appraisal process, seek actual examples of how the competency has been met or exceeded – or not met. Be specific about the behaviour and its impact (avoid ticking boxes).
  • Consider a separate section of the appraisal on how staff have demonstrated their commitment to the values of the organisation, and ensure the importance of this is reflected in the overall rating.
  • Encourage staff to come up with development actions which link to their personal values.
  • Carry out appraisal discussions in a way which reflects what is important to each individual (not one size fits all). What do they need and value from you to give their best?
  • Remember appraisal is a continual process, not just once a year. Be consistent, and use informal feedback and review on a regular basis.

Is good behaviour in terms of corporate values recognised; if so, how? Is ‘bad’ behaviour in terms of organisational values penalised or ignored?

  • Champion tangible examples of individual and team behaviours which demonstrate the values of your organisation and point out the difference this has made. Be explicit about this.
  • Informal recognition is as important as formal recognition. This can be a ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ whenever something has been done in a way which aligns with your corporate values. This reinforces positive behaviour.
  • The opposite is equally true. Ignoring behaviour which goes against your corporate or personal values sanctions the poor behaviour and says it is ok.
  • Whatever forms of formal recognition you adopt, ensure these fit with the values of the organisation. For example, if you have a value which is to ‘celebrate success’, celebrate it in a way which is meaningful.
  • Structure your rewards to reflect what is important to your organisation. If big bonuses are paid to people who clearly don’t display the values you are seeking, this will breed cynicism, demotivation and lack of trust. The same is true if people are promoted despite their behaviour, or receive other perceived ‘rewards’, such as training and other opportunities.
  • Give recognition in a way which is authentic to your values and which relates to the needs of the individual. This could be public or private praise or giving someone extra time off for something important to them. ‘Different folks need different strokes.’
  • Remember we show what is important to us in our behaviour. Make sure this fits with what others expect.

Does your recruitment process attract and select the people who will demonstrate your values and be motivated by them?

  • Review your website and recruitment literature. What culture and values does it demonstrate?
  • Review your role profiles and person specs. Do they describe why the job is important, and the personal styles or behaviours that will make a difference?
  • Ensure your selection process assesses values as well as knowledge and skills.
  • Consider using appropriate motivation or personality questionnaires which highlight preference and choices.
  • Ask for examples of why the candidate did something, not just what they did.
  • Build in an exercise or a presentation which asks them to consider and demonstrate the organisation values and how they can deliver them in their role.
  • Ensure all people involved in the process and the process itself demonstrate your organisation values (such as ‘open and transparent’, ‘respect’, ‘listening’ or ‘efficiency’).
  • Caution – remember there are no good or bad values. The role of selection is to assess best fit between what is important to an individual and what is important to the role/organisation – and then seek evidence of behaviour which demonstrates this.
Corporate communications

Does your corporate brand demonstrate your values? Do your internal and external communications to customers, staff and other stakeholders reflect your values?

  • Your brand values help you to ensure that everything that you do, whether written communications, design or photography, expresses the unique identity of your business and helps differentiate you from competitors.
  • Don’t only describe your values, demonstrate them in what you say and how you say it. So if you say you are ‘human focused’ or ‘customer friendly’ use a tone which is open, friendly and approachable.
  • If you have a value to be ‘open’, make sure information is open, honest, transparent and available.
  • If you have a value which is about ‘listening’ or ‘people’s views matter’, ensure all your communications are two way and allow for feedback. Communicate face-to-face at all levels.
  • Ensure all communications reflect a consistent tone, whether internal or external, formal or informal.
  • Ensure verbal communications reflect your written communications.
  • Train staff so they understand the style and tone your organisation requires to reflect its values – whether in telephone calls, email, letter brochures or social media.
  • Reflect what is important in what your reception looks like, the capture on the wall, the colours you use, the office lay out and how people dress.
  • Remember customers see your values not just in what you communicate but how you communicate it. Customers speak to customers and modern media have shrunk the world and speed of communication. Manage and protect your reputation.